How to Lead Like a War Horse


Two months ago, I started a daily exercise of focusing on one word in silence each morning. When I wrote about this ritual, some friends asked me what the word was, but I’ve been reluctant to reveal it because it’s often misunderstood and not celebrated in society.

The word is meek.

Not a word you use very often, right? Sounds like weak, reminds you of timid? Our culture rejects anything of the sort. We’re encouraged to be strong, bold, confident, and assertive. So why in the world would meek be a good word to focus on every day?

Well, the actual meaning of the word might surprise you. The origin of “meek” in English comes from the Old Norse mjukr, meaning “gentle,” though perhaps a fuller understanding comes from the Greek origin, praus, which is translated as “strength under control.” In ancient Greece, war horses were trained to be meek — strong and powerful yet under control and willing to submit.

Aristotle said that the praus person is one who has the virtue of the mean between two extremes. If recklessness were on one end and cowardice on the other, praus might be characterized as steady courage. For example, a meek person doesn’t shy away from taking a stand. Rather, the stand is taken at the right time, with the right people, in the right way. He or she submits or constrains power for greater effect on self and others.

By focusing on this word every day, I’ve found different ways to apply it. Here are the top five that I’ve discovered over the past two months:

  1. Admitting to limitations. Many days I just wish I could get more done. I wrestle with my calendar, email, interruptions, and fatigue. I pound the steering wheel in frustration at slow drivers. I stay up later than I should. I have this voice in my head that says, “You need to get through all of these emails right now.” Focusing on being meek has helped me remember that I’m limited in time, energy, and capability. There’s been a peace in recognizing those limitations.
  2. Deferring to others. In a work meeting recently, I was starting to dig in my heels on a point of view. I wanted to be heard and to be right. And then the word surfaced in my mind. Be meek. So in this meeting, I let others talk more while I listened. I’ve been a bit more gentle in my interactions. This has led to greater trust and cooperation.
  3. Submitting to authority. On one level, this has played out with daily policies, procedures, and compliance. It’s been easier to say to myself, yes, this just needs to be done this way. In a more profound sense, it’s improved my faith through a greater willingness to submit to a higher authority, to be obedient and willing.
  4. Accepting circumstances. One of my favorite Dale Carnegie principles for healthy living is Cooperate with the inevitable. It’s hard because I’m frustrated with some of my current circumstances. I wish raising kids was easier, my house was bigger, my sports teams would win, that it would warm up outside, and that change happened faster. While I have some degree of influence over some of those things, for the most part, I can’t control them. Remembering to be meek each day has helped me be more content with my circumstances.
  5. Doing what’s needed. I’ve had some hard conversations that I’d have preferred to avoid. I’ve accepted responsibility for some things that I’d have rather abdicated. I’ve done things that were inconvenient but the right thing to do. I’ve prospected for new business, worked on projects, and gone to the dentist. I wasn’t particularly motivated or comfortable doing any of these things. But they were needed.

Perhaps we should appreciate the word meek even more than we do. Maybe the world needs more meek leaders, coaches, politicians, preachers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and parents.

And how is it with you? Where does the world need you to be a war horse?

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